Growing Pressure to Stop Antibiotics In Agriculture

This Drug Discovery & Development 4 Jan 2010 article summarizes some of the current agitation for US policy changes:

(…) Researchers say the overuse of antibiotics in humans and animals has led to a plague of drug-resistant infections that killed more than 65,000 people in the U.S. last year – more than prostate and breast cancer combined. And in a nation that used about 35 million pounds of antibiotics last year, 70 percent of the drugs went to pigs, chickens and cows. Worldwide, it’s 50 percent.

“This is a living breathing problem, it’s the big bad wolf and it’s knocking at our door,” said Dr. Vance Fowler, an infectious disease specialist at Duke University. “It’s here. It’s arrived.”

The rise in the use of antibiotics is part of a growing problem of soaring drug resistance worldwide, The Associated Press found in a six-month look at the issue. As a result, killer diseases like malaria, tuberculosis and staph are resurging in new and more deadly forms.

In response, the pressure against the use of antibiotics in agriculture is rising. The World Health Organization concluded this year that surging antibiotic resistance is one of the leading threats to human health, and the White House last month said the problem is “urgent.”

“If we’re not careful with antibiotics and the programs to administer them, we’re going to be in a post antibiotic era,” said Dr. Thomas Frieden, who was tapped to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention this year.

(…) Here’s how it happens: In the early ’90s, farmers in several countries, including the U.S., started feeding animals fluoroquinolones, a family of antibiotics that includes drugs such as ciprofloxacin. In the following years, the once powerful antibiotic Cipro stopped working 80 percent of the time on some of the deadliest human infections it used to wipe out. Twelve years later, the New England Journal of Medicine published a study linking people infected with a Cipro-resistant bacteria to pork they had eaten.

(…) Johns Hopkins University health sciences professor Ellen Silbergeld, who has reviewed every major study on this issue, said there’s no doubt drug use in farm animals is a “major driver of antimicrobial resistance worldwide.”

The article includes an anecdote regarding a Missouri pig farmer who acquired a resistant strep infection from a boar tusking. His experience prompted him to eliminate antibiotics from his farm. His success echos reports from Dr. Greg Cook [University of Otago]  that Danish and Dutch studies showed industrial antibiotics did not in fact benefit the farmers:

(…) Back in Missouri, farmer Kremer finally found an antibiotic that worked on his leg. After being released from the hospital, Kremer tested his pigs. The results showed they were resistant to all the same drugs he was.

Kremer tossed his hypodermic needles, sacked his buckets of antibiotic-laced feed, slaughtered his herd and started anew.

“I was wearing a syringe, like a holster, like a gun, because my pigs were all sick,” he recalled. “I was really getting so sick and aggravated at what I was doing. I said, ‘This isn’t working.’”

Today, when Kremer steps out of his dusty and dented pickup truck and walks toward the open-air barn in the foothills of the Ozark Mountains, the animals come running. They snort and root at his knee-high gum boots. There are no gates corralling the 180 pigs in this barn. He points to a mound of composting manure.

“There’s no antibiotics in there,” he says proudly.

Kremer sells about 1,200 pigs annually. And a year after “kicking the habit,” he says he saved about $16,000 in vet bills, vaccinations and antibiotics.

“I don’t know why it took me that long to wake up to the fact that what we were doing, it was not the right thing to do and that there were alternatives,” says Kremer, stooping to scratch a pig behind the ear. “We were just basically killing ourselves and society by doing this.”

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